An Adjunct Thanksgiving

I’ve spent the last three years working to make life better for adjuncts. The Adjunct Project is approaching its third birthday, and I’ve been reflecting on some of the successes that have been achieved since its launch. It’s been a good year for adjunct professors. Here are some of the things for which I’m thankful during this holiday week:

I’m thankful for the adjuncts who stand up for themselves and speak out.
For the adjuncts who recognize that they hold the power.
For the adjuncts who have decided that they alone can change their situations.
For the adjuncts who have gained the confidence to make those changes.

I’m thankful for other members of the academic community who have decided it’s time to step up.
For the tenured faculty members who have joined the cause and raised their voices.
For the administrative assistants who devote special attention to adjuncts’ schedules.
For the human-resources professionals who take extra care to pay adjuncts on time.

I’m thankful for the adjunct unions and their successes of the past year.
For Adjunct Action and the Service Employees International Union and the advancements they’ve made.
For the metro organizing strategy and the fact that it’s WORKING.
For the contracts that are being negotiated across the country to make adjuncts’ lives better.

I’m thankful for New Faculty Majority and the work they’ve done for adjuncts.
For Maria Maisto and her tireless lobbying and testimony in support of the cause.
For the attention politicians have begun paying to the adjunct plight as a result of that lobbying.
For the partnerships and collaborations that the New Faculty Majority has forged in the name of adjunct research.

I’m thankful for the media coverage that’s been given to adjuncts this year.
For the conversation that is now spreading beyond the boundaries of the campus.
For the mainstream coverage from news outlets like PBS and Al Jazeera.
For the industry coverage from Vitae, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, and other blogs.

I’m thankful for the platform Vitae gives me to speak my mind.
For the freedom I have to write about any topic I choose.
For the commitment my editors have made to telling the truth about adjunct labor.
For all the important stories I’ve been able to read and contribute to over this past year.

I’m thankful for my Vitae colleagues and others who continue to thrust adjunct issues into the spotlight.
For Rebecca Schuman, Sarah Kendzior, and Kelly Baker who speak truth to power and call out injustice.
For Karen Kelsky, Joe Fruscione, and Katie Pryal who are helping adjuncts escape bad situations.
For Stacey Patton, Sydni Dunn, Audrey June, and Peter Schmidt whose news coverage of adjunct issues inform all of our discourse.

I’m thankful for the promise of the future for adjunct professors.
For the fact that, finally, adjuncts seem to be gaining ground.
For hope that things can get better.
For all of the changes that will come this year.

Thanksgiving Day

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Always an Adjunct?

Regular readers of this website know that I left my adjunct teaching position at the University of Georgia last May.  Ultimately, I’m glad I did what I did. The job wasn’t bad, but it was keeping me from moving on to something better.

In this week’s post at Vitae, I discuss some of the questions I’ve been dealing with since deciding to leave my position.

For one, it’s just kind of strange to not be prepping for classes this year like I would usually be doing. After dedicating about seven years of my life to a career track, I’m having a hard time leaving it behind.

I’m also struggling with another important question. How does my role as a writer about adjunct issues change now that I’m no longer an adjunct? My professional identity for the past couple of years has been that of an adjunct who writes about adjunct issues. Now I’m wondering what my new life outside of academe means for my legitimacy as a higher ed writer.

Should I continue to write about adjunct issues? Am I allowed to? Will I even want to?

I have to admit that part of me wants to leave the conversation entirely. I know progress is being made. I see it every day. In the two and half years since the Adjunct Project first began, adjunct issues have been pushed into the mainstream. The tide appears to be turning.

As I discuss in the piece, I’m not sure what my new role will be and whether or not I will stay connected to higher ed. I know leaving was something I had to do. Now I just need to figure out how I can continue to be useful to the growing movement.

Read more about my decision to leave academe and about the questions I’m pondering at:

Giving Up the Good.


Walking Away

I’m walking away, but I’m not turning my back.

Not All English Majors Like Marketing

The second interview from the “How I Got Out” series about adjuncts who escape bad situations was published last week at Vitae. This piece is about Kate Weber, a professor in her last term as an adjunct at Monterey Peninsula College in California.

It’s her last term as an adjunct because Kate will be starting a full-time, contracted, lecturer position in the fall at California State University’s Stanislaus campus. Moving on up!

Out of the Frying Pan


Kate’s story is a little bit different from Alyson Indrunas’s, whom I interviewed for the first “How I Got Out” piece. Alyson had a more definite plan and stuck with it, but Kate’s story involves a windier road to success.

After being forced into a crushing teaching load by the need to become self-sufficient due to a divorce in 2011, Kate did some soul-searching and tried her hand at one of those marketing jobs that English majors are all supposed to be good at.

The marketing route ended up being a dead end for Kate, so she decided to go back to teaching. As she puts it, “escaping being an adjunct isn’t always a step up.”

But Kate made a smart move as she re-entered the academic job market. She took an online course in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). This class opened new doors for her and, when the job opened at CSU-Stanislaus, her TESOL training made her the best candidate for the position.

Kate offers some interesting observations on her foray into marketing and she also has advice for other adjuncts in her position who are looking to “get out.”

Read the full story at:

How I Got Out: Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire.

New Series About Adjuncts Who Change Careers

I’ve just launched a new series at Vitae called “How I Got Out” in which I tell the stories of former adjuncts who have reinvented themselves and escaped their bad situations.

Whether they’ve returned to school, switched careers, or picked up some kind of new certification, all the adjuncts I’ve interviewed for this series have made changes that allowed them to leave behind adjunct hell.

How to get out

I’ve been particularly interested in this topic lately because I’m in the process of doing the very same thing myself. This past semester was my last as an adjunct (I hope). So I’ve been trying to learn all I can about how other adjuncts have succeeded in escaping. And I’m passing along everything I learn to my readers, many of whom are also adjuncts contemplating a career change.

Earlier this week, I published Brian Flota’s alt-ac narrative about how he switched gears after his tenure-track job search stalled. Flota also saw that things weren’t working for him and decided to make a change.

For the first piece of the “How I Got Out” series, I talked to a former adjunct from the Seattle area who is now the e-Learning Director at the school where she used to teach part-time.

Alyson Indrunas did her research, went back to grad school for a second master’s degree, and hit the job market from a new angle. Her hard work paid off, and her life looks much different now than it did a couple of years ago.

Read more about Alyson’s story and how she made the change:

How I Got Out: One Adjunct’s Journey From Freeway Flyer to e-Learning Director 

Congressman George Miller Challenges University Presidents on Adjuncts

Last year, Congressman George Miller of California took up the cause of adjunct labor. Miller, who is the senior Democrat on the House of Representatives’ Committee on Education in the Workforce, opened a public forum last year where adjuncts and other contingent faculty members could share stories about their working conditions.

The open forum generated hundreds of responses from adjuncts across the country. Miller said he was reading each one. According to an interview conducted by Vitae‘s Sydni Dunn, Miller was hoping to “have the opportunity to have a full-committee hearing in the education and workforce committee” regarding the findings of the forum. 

Congressman George Miller

Congressman George Miller

I admit to being a little skeptical of Congressman Miller’s interest in this topic. For all I knew, he saw an opportunity to reach thousands of new constituents in one swipe. Maybe that was the case, but Miller has proven more than once that he hasn’t forgotten about the pledge he made to adjuncts.

For starters, he publicly discussed the 800+ responses he received to his open call, and he co-authored a report on the findings. This report was known as the “Just-in-Time Professor: A Staff Report Summarizing eForum Responses on the Working Conditions of Contingent Faculty in Higher Education,” and it’s a 36-page exploration of the adjunct responses to the public forum complete with charts and graphs.

And then today, over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Rep. Miller published an open letter to college presidents wherein he discusses some of what he has learned about the working conditions of adjuncts and also student athletes. In the letter, entitled “Presidents, Do Right By Athletes and Adjuncts,” Miller calls out college presidents for their treatment of these two exploited groups on college campuses.

The Congressman challenges the rhetoric of university administrations, who often discourage union activity and promise compromise, but then turn right around and maintain the status quo.

He writes:

You can’t have it both ways; you can’t insist that you are unable to make things better for athletes or adjuncts, and simultaneously insist that they should not try to make things better on their own, through collective bargaining.

You own these working conditions. You can keep defending the status quo and trying to excuse shabby workplace practices, but I respectfully suggest you change them instead.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. As for whether this advice will be heeded, well, we shall see. At least the cause is continuing to receive attention—and it’s going further up the ladder than ever before.

Why Are Adjuncts Joining Unions?

In a new post at Vitae, I argue that adjuncts and other university professors have something in common with pilots at JetBlue airlines who have recently voted to unionize after two previous failed attempts to do so.

Join the Union

The question I attempt to answer in the piece is why have these pilots just now decided to organize, when just a couple years ago they were adamantly anti-union? I believe the answer to this question will shed light on why adjunct professors have also just recently begun to unionize in large numbers.

Both groups traditionally believed that a union was unnecessary. As I point out in the article, both groups have also been regularly fed a diet of propaganda by management that attempts to convince labor they’re better off without the help of a union.

As the past year has proven, that argument has worn thin. Adjuncts, like the JetBlue pilots, have begun to stand up for themselves and call out management for its unfulfilled promises.

Read more: We’re All Labor Now.

Stripper With a PhD

“The first time I ever stepped into a strip club, I was 18. I walked into the VIP section where dozens of men were getting lap dances and I thought, ‘This shit is like Caligula.’”

It was 1998 when “Claire” had her first taste of stripping–the career that would call her back throughout her life, even as she pursued and eventually obtained her Ph.D. in English Literature. Now Claire is in her early thirties and she still dances at a joint near where she lives in the southeastern U.S–the same region where she earned her Ph.D.*

“I’ve been in this field so long that it’s in my veins. I feel at home in a strip club. Totally comfortable,” Claire reports confidently.

Stripper With a PhD

It’s a performance, of course. Sure, some strip club-goers are relatively innocent. Just looking for some evening entertainment and a little female attention, however feigned. But most men who step through those blacked-out doors into the swirling neon lights have one thing in mind, and it doesn’t involve innocence.

The goal is to make him think she wants him, to make him think he’s the only one in the whole club that she wants to take to the couches. That’s where the real money is.

But, of course, he’s not the only one in the club. If he turns down her offer of a lap dance, she’ll just move on to the next guy. The next only guy in the club. They all want her to pick them out from the crowd and make them feel special. And she wants them to buy what she’s offering.

A room full of willing participants. A captive audience. And her task is to engage them all. To hold the attention of every single person in the room while simultaneously making each one feel special, like she’s talking directly to him.

This challenge will sound familiar to anyone who has worked as a teacher. Teaching is also a performance. Claire’s strip club description fits the classroom experience well. In fact, her very words could describe any veteran teacher’s career.

“I’ve been in this field so long that it’s in my veins. I feel at home in a classroom. Totally comfortable.”

Teachers are continually challenged to come up with new ways to reach their students, to convince them to buy what they’re offering. Teaching and stripping are similar careers, not counting the nudity and the lap dances. Some teachers are better at the dance than others. The good teachers are drawn to the profession. They have a tendency to stay with the job no matter how little it reciprocates that sacrifice. Some teachers know from the very beginning they’ve found their niche. Claire knew pretty quickly that she had found hers as a dancer–long before she returned to school for her doctorate.

“I’ve always had a way with men,” she explains. “I come from a family of southern beauty queens to whom beauty and charm are of utmost importance—and I mastered my feminine wiles at a precocious age.”

She’s candid about her past and about her talent. She knows her confidence is not exactly politically correct, but she’s not afraid to be honest about her thoughts on a successful career.

“I realize it is perhaps not socially acceptable to claim, ‘Hey, dudes like me,’ but they do, they always have, and I knew I could make money off of that.”

Sometimes the secret to success is simply recognizing your strengths and exploiting them. Other times you conduct field research and learn best practices. Claire goes on to relate some of the secrets she’s learned from her years on stage. Like how she gleans a customer’s name immediately upon approaching him, and then repeats his name as often as possible during their brief conversation. “Works like magic for emptying wallets,” she says. “Over the years, I’ve mastered the tricks necessary for convincing men to want me.”

In her 20s, Claire was confident that her life plan would involve a Ph.D. and a professorship. But as the reality of the academic job market began to loom large, she started thinking of creative alternatives. During graduate school, she had stepped away from the clubs for almost six years. The problem–as any grad student knows–was that the assistantship stipend just wasn’t financially feasible.

So, deciding to return to the club and ultimately to launch her own pole dancing business was easy. At the time, she was making a “fabulous $16,000 a year as an exploited graduate assistant,” which wasn’t cutting it. Bills had to be paid. Claire has a three-year-old child and her husband works a 9-5 job. She wanted to avoid an all-day daycare, so a night job was essential. “I needed to make adult money to afford our house. Stripping was the easiest and quickest solution.”

Academic Background

When Claire walked back into the strip club after a six-year hiatus, she was in the process of polishing up her dissertation for her Ph.D. in English. Her topic?

“Literary bad girls,” Claire explains, pointing out the irony of her chosen subject matter. I tried to push her for more detail, but she demurred on the grounds that the women she wrote about are too obscure to list without giving away her identity.

The concept of irony comes up a lot in Claire’s life. She’s quite aware of the seemingly paradoxical relationship between her status as an academic feminist and her chosen profession in which she performs for the pleasure of the mostly male gaze.

Claire makes clear to any “feminist detractors” that she herself is a feminist, and that she can easily reconcile the two disparate identities.

“Please do not judge me as a victimized sex-object who doesn’t know any better—especially if you have never worked in the sex trade,” she says.  “I am empowered in this position and if you don’t believe me, please see my paid-off credit card bill.”

She acknowledges the fact that some will judge her anyway. She knows that having a Ph.D. and being a stripper will always result in pity or outright criticism by some who will think she has failed her training. But Claire doesn’t feel like a failure.

“I feel empowered—not just in my ability to rake in benjis–but moreover in my bold decision to eschew a national job search in favor of pragmatically providing for the life I actually want. Indeed, I felt like I would be living a less meaningful, more wasted life if I forced myself into the academic path that I now regard as unduly stressful and all-consuming.”

Claire takes her position on feminism within the sex industry a step further even.

“It is taboo to admit, but I enjoy working in strip clubs,” she explains. “I like the glamour, smoking cigarettes and talking to strangers, dancing all night, a constant flood of compliments—and tons of money.”

To Claire, working in the strip club is empowering in ways that grinding through life in the academy couldn’t possibly be. She asks, “Would it be more ‘respectable,’ more socially-acceptable, for me to adjunct my ass off all across this state for peanuts and grey hairs?”

Her point is not lost on this adjunct.

Each year, more and more Ph.D.-holders end up on the dead-end adjunct professor track. The American Association of University Professors puts the number of comfortably-employed college professors as low as 30%. The other three-fourths of the profession is filled with contingent workers who have no contracts or retirement, and who earn a fraction of the tenure-track professor salary. It’s not hard to imagine why someone would decide to leave that life behind in favor of a more lucrative and exciting career–especially if she is supporting a family.

On the Overlap of Stripping and the Academy

Oddly enough, Claire argues that this transition from academic to stripper is much easier than one might think.

“My academic training helps me recognize the systems of power operating at the strip club, and that training informs my hustling strategies,” she explains. “This academic training mixes interestingly with a lifetime of experience manipulating men to get the things I want.”

According to Claire, the “bad girls” of her research complement her behavior at the club. Thousands of hours in classrooms and meeting with advisors taught her how to read an audience and to give them what they want. Crucial to both professions is audience awareness, and Claire is a master of it. The only question is through which medium she will practice her skill and training. For her, the decision was pretty simple. “I decided I would no longer give away anything for free.”

So, she took her academic training and left the profession in order to use it in a place that more appropriately compensated her for her skills. And speaking of compensation . . .

Claire tells me that the money is the best thing about stripping. “That kind of money is life-changing,” she says. Based on the numbers she gave, I would agree.

“At the height of my career, I made as much as $8,000 -$10,000 a month. That’s $500+ a night on a regular basis. Working three nights a week, I can usually count on $1200 – $1500 a week. On a weeknight, I’m stressed out if I make anything less than $300. On a weekend, I expect anything from $400 – $1000 a night.”

To give you an idea just how life-changing this income could be, consider the average pay an adjunct professor receives for teaching a course in freshman writing. According to the Adjunct Project, a self-reported database of adjunct wages that’s hosted by The Chronicle of Higher Education, the average adjunct pay per course is about $2,700.

An adjunct teaching a full-time course load of 10 classes each year would earn an annual salary of $27,000. Claire can make more than that in just three months. I’d say that’s life-changing.

Then there’s the free time factor that also sweetens the deal for Claire. As a stripper, she earns this kind of money while only working 24 hours a week. The financial reasons to abandon academe for the club are obvious–the earning potential doesn’t even compare. But, for Claire, the decision to leave was more than just a financial one.

Deciding to Leave

During her last year of dissertation work, Claire faced the decision all Ph.D. candidates must eventually ask themselves. Am I willing to leave behind my life and move to a small town in the middle of nowhere for a job at an obscure college in order to get that coveted tenure-track teaching position?

This is a reality everyone comes to terms with while on the academic job market. The chances of getting a job in a city one actually wants to live are slim. Can you live in small town Alaska/North Dakota/Kansas? Is a low-paying tenure-track, teaching-intensive position even worth the geographic sacrifice? For Claire, the situation was even more complicated by the fact that she had a young child and a husband with an established career. Could she ask them to give up their own lives so she could fulfill her dream?

She could not. She entered the local job market only, applying for every teaching position in her immediate vicinity and she forsook the national job search for the sake of her family.

“I asked myself, ‘What do you value? What do you love? What is important to you?’”

Once she thought about it, the decision became clear. As Claire puts it, “There were things in my life I valued more than analyzing books, teaching freshman composition, and engaging in an intellectual circle jerk through esoteric publications that only a few privileged folks read.”

Being a professional academic requires huge sacrifices. Minimum-wage grad school jobs, cross-country moves, uprooted families, seven-day work weeks. Claire knew she wouldn’t be happy with that life.

“What was I willing to sacrifice in order to be a professional academic?” she asks, and then answers her own question: “Not much, it turns out.”

The local job search didn’t pan out. As it happens, this wasn’t a big deal for Claire because she was quickly becoming disillusioned with the academy anyway. Her final few years of graduate school had exposed her to some of the pettiness and hypocrisy that academe usually hides from the outside world, and she was questioning whether she even wanted to enter the profession if she could.

Claire now views the academy with cynicism. To her, it’s a place “where a small group of elite people give lip-service to eliminating classism, sexism, and racism, yet this lip-service is written in jargon so intimidating that it is accessible only to those elite.” So much for the “proletarian philosophy of equality,” Claire chides.

“How do academics affect the world?” she continues. “How are academics change agents? Are we hoping for some kind of trickle-down intellectualism where our students receive a bit of our wisdom and go about disseminating it among the plebes?”

It doesn’t take much prodding to get Claire to share her thoughts on academe. She seems eager to let go of some brooding criticisms that were stifled during her graduate training.

“I don’t like most academics,” Claire writes in an email to me. I get the impression she’s only half-joking.

As you might expect from someone who dances for a living, Claire finds the academy too staid and boring. She is careful to point out that she’s grateful for the education and intellectual growth her PhD provided, but to Claire, the academy just isn’t “hip enough.” Probably not the first time that accusation has been leveled at the institution.

The academy didn’t have what Claire wanted, and vice versa apparently, so they’re taking a break from each other. For now.

Making Sacrifices

Estrangement from academia like Claire’s is becoming more and more common these days. As the adjunct labor crisis deepens, would-be academics are jumping ship in favor of careers with more stability and better incomes. Like Claire, these grad students and early career professionals are disillusioned with an academic labor system that appears to be hypocritical. The false promises of eventual jobs in exchange for a decade of meager assistantship stipends are wearing thin for many.

As a result, some ex-academics and higher education experts have begun to call for a reality check in graduate school acceptance and placement rates. Some, like Karen Kelsky a former tenured professor and department chair who runs The Professor Is In, offer frank advice to those attempting to make informed decisions about academic careers.

In January 2014, Kelsky created a Google Doc that crowdsourced information about Ph.D. debt. A quick scan through the document reveals many Ph.D.-holders with six-figure debt balances and no job to show for their financial sacrifices. One column asks respondents how they plan to pay back the debt. More than a few simply state, “I have no idea.”

In light of the information this document provides, it’s not hard to imagine why some Ph.D. candidates abandon the career track before even finishing the degree, let alone after a few unsuccessful years on the job market.

As one who successfully walked away from her academic destiny and repurposed her Ph.D. in a very unorthodox way, Claire also has some thoughts for those contemplating a life in the academy.

“If you’re only pursuing an academic career because it is what you are most trained and qualified for—if you see academia as just your job—then it is not worth following to the ends of the earth,” she cautions.

Claire’s advice to other academics who are caught up in the passion of their work rings true. Moreso than others, academics have a tendency to fall into the do-what-you-love trap. As a result, they get stuck in a mindset that will perpetually imprison them, thinking they’re doing something wrong if they don’t love every minute of their jobs.

Not only does this mentality perpetuate unhappiness and discontentment in higher education, but it also facilitates rampant exploitation of the workers who ascribe to this mindset. It’s easy to use propaganda to justify low pay when one is sacrificing for the sake of passion. Teachers, in particular, are prone to this kind of economic oppression due to the political rhetoric of “self-sacrificing” professions. Claire’s self-empowering revelation was that she could decouple her career from her passion.

“Your job does not have to be your passion. You can just have a regular old job that pays decently and you can fulfill your passion in other areas of your life,” she points out.

Intersection of Two Lives

When it comes to those other areas of Claire’s life, she likes to be a bit more careful than most about keeping them separate from her career. She has a family and a different life outside of the club. The two worlds almost never mix. She explains that “no one in my academic life, outside of my most trusted friends, know about the stripping.” Claire is very aware of the judgment she could face from the academy if anyone were to find out about her second life.

She tells me that former advisors and colleagues would likely see her decision to leave the academy as a failure–especially in light of the job she now holds and its perception as being antithetical to the principles under which she trained in her doctoral program. But, if you haven’t gathered by now, Claire doesn’t back down from a challenge. She fires right back that she’s “suspicious of any framework that disallows female sexual expression as somehow socially irresponsible.” The feminist training fails her not.

Claire is savvy, though. She realizes her background can work to her advantage in the club with the right kind of client. She isn’t afraid to put the degree to use when she sees an opportunity.

“My strip club caters to a very high class clientele, and I use the PhD shtick all the time when I sense the customer might like it. These men are often millionaires and are interested in a woman with some culture. With these men, I will usually talk Faulkner topless for $600/hour.”

The Sound and the Fury will never be the same.

Planning for the Future

Claire’s wish to maintain her anonymity is rooted in her desire to keep her two lives separate for the sake of both her family and her sanity. But she also has another reason. A small thought in the back of her mind tugs at her, calling her to one day return to the world she left behind. Despite her open disparagement of the system that pushed her out, she admits a desire to stay connected to it. To a certain extent, once an academic always an academic. The hunger for deep intellectual engagement never goes away entirely, and Claire tells me she still holds out hope for a low-key academic job in her city.

If something good came along, she would take it. Hence, her need to remain anonymous about her current lifestyle. She states her apprehension more bluntly: “Who wants to hire a slut? I cannot come out of the closet.”

In the meantime, Claire is pretty content with her life. The stripping pays well for now.

“I’m a pragmatist. I just want enough money to live in my modest home and not freak out about bills. Enough money to go on a family vacation every now and again. A job that I could leave at the end of the day. A job that wouldn’t consume every other aspect of my life. A job that wouldn’t become my whole identity.”

Claire is an “alternative academic” in the truest sense of the phrase. She is an academic who has found a nontraditional medium in which to practice her knowledge in a way that provides for herself and her family. She may have left behind the university, but she hasn’t left behind her training and experience. She continues to use her writing and theoretical background whenever possible. In fact, Claire has begun chronicling her exit from academia anonymously at her blog, Doctor Outta Here, where she discusses her reasons for leaving and her current life post-Ph.D. Though she feels the judgmental eyes of the academy, she is not ashamed of her career and her life decisions.

“Yes, I am a stripper with a Ph.D. I own that, and I’m proud of it,” she writes in an email. “I think it’s a neat thing to be. Complex, contradictory, different.”


*This piece is the long version of an interview with Claire that was first published at The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Vitae.

New Adjunct Discussion Group on Vitae

Over at Vitae, we’ve been creating discussion groups based on some of the primary categories of people using the site. Our most recent group is called Adjunct Life and it’s designed to be a place where adjuncts can share stories and advice with each other.

Adjunct Life Group

LinkedIn has a couple of pretty active adjunct groups that focus a little more on career advice and discussions, so I’m thinking there’s clearly a demand for this kind of online gathering place for adjuncts.

The problem I’ve had with LinkedIn, as Jonathon Rees has also pointed out, is that the site isn’t exactly an ideal networking platform for academics. I’ve been a member for awhile now–more out of social obligation than anything else–and I still haven’t really done anything worthwhile on the site.

I’m hoping Vitae can pick up where LinkedIn has fallen short for us. Vitae is specifically set up for academics and allows us to display elements of our professional lives that LinkedIn leaves out.

Anyway, that’s why I created the adjunct group at Vitae. We’ll see if anyone decides to use it. I know I will, and I hope other adjuncts will join me.

I’ve got a thread going over there now about how I’m coping with my “adjunct recovery” now that I’m officially post-ac. If you get a hankerin’, you should join the group and the discussion.


What is a Flexible Academic?

I’ve never been quite satisfied with the labels #altac and #postac. It seems like they don’t do justice to the people they describe. Sarah Kendzior once pointed out on Twitter that these terms define a person based on what he is not, rather than on what he is. In order to be an alternate academic or a post-academic, you have to not be a normal academic. The names suggest that the alternative categories are less important than the category from which they are derived.

Ever since I saw Kendzior’s tweet, that hierarchical naming structure has stuck with me. I’ve wished for a new way to describe academics who choose to pursue other career tracks beyond the professorship or even beyond the academy itself. Besides, it’s kind of annoying to have to include both hashtags in a tweet when they refer to the same general group of people.

In a recent altac and postac piece for Vitae I begrudgingly used those terms. I only did it because I didn’t have a better way of referring to these non-traditional academics (non-traditional academic just doesn’t have the same ring to it).

When my editor at Vitae mentioned they were trying to create a group for altac and postac discussions, I was glad to hear about a new gathering place for the conversations that had been happening randomly around the web. But I wondered what the group would be called. My editor commissioned me to come up with a new name.

Over the past month or so, I have rejected dozens of possible names. I wanted to avoid the trap that Sarah Kendzior pointed out. The name had to create a new category that wasn’t defined in opposition to another group. The name also had to make sense and be easy to use. It had to encompass academics who work both within the academy and without it, and it had to be empowering.

After a few weeks, the name finally hit me: Flexible Academics. A flexible academic is someone who views her career with an open-mind, who keeps her options available as she goes through graduate school, who wants to learn about the wide variety of jobs she qualifies for other than just professor.


Is your career flexible?

The new group just launched today at Vitae. It’s going to be a place to ask questions, share resources, and meet other like-minded people. From a design standpoint, the group is still in development. Soon, it will look much different and contain more options. If you’re into this kind of thing, you should go ahead and join the group so we can get this discussion rolling. As I’ve said before, I’m just learning about flexible academic careers, but I like what I’m seeing. Anything that provides an alternative to adjunct hell is worth checking into.

I’m looking forward to meeting new people and sharing resources as we continue to define this category.

Join me in the Flexible Academics group here.

Escape From Academia

I’ve read a bunch of stories lately about people leaving academe. Vitae even started compiling a Google Doc full of quitter narratives and created a special genre that Sydni Dunn dubbed #quitlit. The document has 69 stories and counting.

I’m not surprised how many people are leaving the once-heralded halls of the academy–especially given the way all the good academic jobs are drying up and being converted to low-paying contingent positions.

I guess it is interesting how many people are especially vocal about their decision to flee the academic life. Usually quitting a job is not necessarily something to proclaim from the roof tops. You just kind of quit quietly and move on.

It suggests to me that people are especially bitter and pissed off about their circumstances in the world of higher education. Any job that causes you to do a happy dance after quitting must suck pretty bad.

escape from academia

Part of the post-quitter elation seems to come from finally releasing the hold gained by many years of academia’s burrowing into one’s mental and psychological health. It’s hard to give it up once you’ve invested so much. After investing a decade or more in earning a degree and training to use it, academics become especially adept at ignoring the sunk cost fallacy.

A form of cognitive dissonance I suppose. As long as I can convince myself that what I’m doing is worth it, then it must be so. Nevermind the interminable “apprenticeship” of adjuncthood or the low pay and self-sacrifice.

And that doesn’t even address the opportunity cost associated with an unsatisfying academic career. What might you be doing if you weren’t sticking it out in the academy? Could you be working a more fulfilling career? A better paying one? Might you have more free time?

It’s easy to forget about these opportunity costs when one is pursuing a goal with the monomaniacal tenacity of Ahab.

At what point must we own up to the sunk costs and simply walk away? All that time spent in grad school, all those years teaching as an adjunct, all those rewritten chapters of your dissertation? They’re already done and gone. They’re in the past and they can’t be gotten back. So why allow them to continue to derail your future plans?

Best to just leave the past where it is and move on to the future.

Anne Helen Peterson just did. I’m drawn to Peterson’s story*, which I read today in The Hairpin, because she’s achieved exactly what I’m trying to achieve. An escape from academia in favor of a career as a writer.

After earning a PhD, Peterson started writing on the side and gradually built up an online presence. In the process, she learned how to adapt her esoteric academic prose to the reading style of a pop culture audience. It worked and now she’s heading to Buzzfeed full-time. Lucky her.

Apparently, Peterson was as excited as the other #quitlitters to get the hell out of the academy. You can tell from the opening question of the interview.

After confirming her new position, interview and interviewee apparently shared a moment of exuberance because “eight minutes of screaming” had to be redacted from the interview transcript. Ha. An exaggeration no doubt, but you get the picture.

Getting away from a job for which you are “not a good fit” (as Peterson eloquently puts it) is a great feeling. Finding a job for which you are a good fit is even better.

The sooner I can join the quitlit ranks and embark on my escape from academia, the better. I always enjoy reading stories like Peterson’s because they give me confidence that it can be done.

*Thanks to Jacqui Shine for tipping me on Peterson’s escape from academia.